BEIJING - Chinese authorities have imposed restrictions "worse than prison" on activists ahead of an international diplomatic meeting in Beijing, a leading dissident said Friday after Washington voiced "deep concern" over human rights in the country.
The measures imposed on dissidents ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit from Monday are the worst since a smothering security clampdown for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said activist Hu Jia.
Hu has campaigned on environmental and HIV-related causes, among others, and was previously jailed for three years on subversion charges.
He has since intermittently been under house arrest, with his latest confinement coming after he voiced support for pro-democracy protests in the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong.
"The restrictions I've faced under house arrest during APEC are worse than when I was in prison," he told AFP.
"At least then I had the right to see my family and loved ones."
Police had planned to escort him to Shenzhen to visit his daughter for her seventh birthday - she lives with his ex-wife - and ensure he was not in Beijing during the high-profile meeting, he said, a process of forced holidays known among activists as "being travelled".
But the trip was cancelled at the last minute after he had already bought presents and a cake.
"This is her first birthday since entering primary school," Hu said, fighting back tears.
"I just wanted to be with her, light some candles and sing 'Happy Birthday'."
Hu's comments came just hours after the White House released a statement by National Security Advisor Susan Rice expressing "the administration's deep concern regarding the treatment of human rights defenders" in China.
Rice made the comments while discussing "the deterioration of China's human rights situation" with American and Chinese advocates in Washington, the White House said.
Kerry, who is in Beijing for a foreign ministers' meeting ahead of the summit, said earlier this week that the US-China relationship was the "most consequential" in the world.
But he warned it needed to be "carefully managed". President Barack Obama is due in Beijing on Monday for the gathering of leaders from the 21 APEC member economies, after which he will have meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The two major powers have clashed repeatedly over a range of issues, with Beijing last month warning Washington to keep out of events in Hong Kong, which has seen weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Since Xi took power last year, China's Communist party has strengthened its grip on anyone seen as a challenge to its power, and rights advocates complain of increasing oppression.
Campaign group Amnesty International called on APEC leaders to urge China to release at least 76 mainland activists it said had been detained for supporting the Hong Kong protests.
"Political convenience should not trump principled action," said Roseann Rife, its East Asia research director.
China has imposed tight security in the capital to ensure the APEC gathering goes off without a hitch, while also setting tight traffic restrictions, ordering factories to close, and declaring a six-day public sector holiday in an effort to prevent Beijing's notorious pollution.
Police said 28,000 officers would be deployed to ensure security, the official news agency Xinhua said, with 800,000 civilians also mobilised according to the municipal security bureau.
"The Chinese government has disrupted more lives with restrictions during APEC than protesters blocking the road in Hong Kong during Occupy Central," Hu said.
Guzaili Nu'er, the wife of Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was convicted of separatism in September and sentenced to life imprisonment, has been under surveillance for months.
"I've been at home today since it's the beginning of the six-day holiday, I went out just now to buy some things at the supermarket, and I saw that they were there," she told AFP, referring to government security agents.
"Every time I go out, they ask me where I'm going," she added.
"So, I don't go out."
Three people briefly evaded officers around the APEC convention centre venue to vent their anger over a grievance in the northern province of Shanxi.
They were questioned by police, who accused them of putting up a poster, next to which the Chinese character for "injustice" had been painted.
One of the trio was seen by AFP being led into a police van.